My official Yoga journey began in February 2018 with me signing up for a gym with a new member discount for referrals (ha, this is an important detail because otherwise I probably would not have done it) and then dropping into a medium/advance level Jivamukti class. Since then, I've been attending classes up to three times a week and especially in the past few months I've been noticing a shift of focus within my practice.
I've went from figuring out the high level details of poses to executing transitions between asanas properly to more intricate aspects all the more inspiringly challenging but at times also frustrating af. In this context I'd like to share the latest learnings from the top of my stack.
On Strings And Buttons
Certain poses require you to create length in your body. Practicing this aspect consciously will not only strengthen muscles that you tend not to actively engage in your daily lives but may additionally improve your posture in the long run. Often times during practice, it helps to visualize the crown of your head being strung up to the ceiling with a string, say for instance in warrior one or two, or that you need to push a physical button a few centimeters above your head by lengthening from neck up to crown, for instance in plank or even (twisted) chair pose.
But lengthening does not happen on the upper segment of your body only but often also at the lower part - specifically the heel. In some poses such as plank pose, high lunge, lunge with upward extended arm or crescent lunge, it helps to visualize yourself having to push against an imaginary wall with your heel. From this small adjustment, you may even notice an improvement of your balance in those wide legged lunge poses because it forces you to relocate more weight into your back foot, therefore lowering and shifting your body's center of gravity to a more stable stance.
Don't Be A Hammock, Be A Plank.
If a pose comes very very easy for you, you are likely missing some additional details. Or maybe not, in that case props to you, you're doing great honey 🤜. Here are some personal Q&A's that you can raise during your practice to challenge yourself. Q&A as in Question and exemplary Applications, ha.
- Q: Are you putting equal weight in both of your feet while engaging your legs? My teacher sometimes (jokingly?) tells us to engage and pull up our knee caps to the point that it feels like we will end up tearing apart our mat? A: triangle, pyramid pose
- Q: Are both of your bent knees on one line orthogonally to the long side of your mat and your hips aligned and pointing straight ahead? A: twisted chair pose (opt: with arms extended)
- Q: (the latest:) Are you consciously doing symmetrical variations of your asanas and transitions on each side? A: Clasping of both hands in humble warrior or forward bend with shoulder opener (which index finger is on top when interlocking fingers), folding feet from chaturanga to up dog and then to down dog (e.g. left foot first after left foot forward and vice versa)
There are a range of passive chill poses, such as most supine poses where at least one side of the back is on the floor, but you should usually be actively engaging some specific body part in your asana instead of simply chilling (at least breathing actively?) in the pose while waiting for it to be over. Not being conscious during your asanas, you can incur long term damage to
- your knees (e.g. by not tucking your toes, actively engaging your feet in wide legged seated forward bend)
- lower back (e.g. by not crunching your abs in wheel pose and other backbends), noticeable when you go into savasana and your whole lower back painfully tightens up
- your shoulders (e.g. by being a hammock instead of a plank or not rotating your shoulders outwards in down dog).
Breathes Audibly Only When Instructor Walks By
Breathing provides oxygen to your muscles and your organs (simplified through several layers of scientific abstraction 🧬). In a more spiritual sense, you create energy in your body throughout your practice that you'd share with the whole room if everyone stays in sync with the instructor's verbal cues. Ideally, your own breathing rhythm would stay constant throughout the duration of the class until you let go in savasana end relaxation (everybody's favourite pose). And even smaller transitions such as plank to chaturanga, chaturanga to up-dog should have the same breathing and thus moving duration. When you dedicate yourself to focusing on consistent breathing, the pains and burning sensations will often times automagically go away or become less noticeable and you will be able to hold your asanas much longer than you'd expect. And holding longer means a better workout at the end of the day 🎉. But let's face it, we've all caught ourselves peeking over to our neighbors because we've missed a cue (or when we've mixed up left and right) or when there's maybe some serious eye candy right next to us.
For me personally, maintaining a consistent breathing rhythm proved to be one of the biggest challenges this year. Often times I'd suddenly fall short of breath when transitioning from down dog to warrior one. In spontaneous retrospective, I'd notice that I had jerked up abruptly from the previous pose, thus had failed to exhale properly to create volume for the following inhale that should lead to getting up to warrior one. This would mess up the rhythm for the following asanas. In these moments, it helps to raise slightly the audibility of your breathing (ujjayi breath) and to remember the movements from the beginning of the class that in a way were supposed to guide you into breathing rhythm of the rest of the class. Shortness of breath also usually means that you might feel rushed to keep up with the cues which would indicate that you're not fully focussed on your movements and paying attention to the cues. I like to remember that I'm taking part in a class to fully dedicate my practice to the sequence that is taught by the instructor along with everybody else that is sharing this intention by coming to this particular class. Otherwise I might as well follow a YouTube video at home by myself.
One's own Yoga practice is ever changing. Even if you're practicing the same sequence for a few weeks, your body is subjected to the weather, the time of the day, what you ate hours before and of course your momentary mood. Ideally (from what I've interpreted so far), you leave all matters outside of the room and keep them off your mat, but during each practice you will inevitably end up checking in with yourself mentally as well as physically and ultimately walk out of class feeling cleansed, relaxed, inspired or utterly confused, because everything changed (when the Fire nation attacked 🔥). I know that I have just barely scratched the surface of Yoga and there is so much technique (and rich history!) left to discover, but I'd recommend anybody to give it a go and to work out your personal way of practice on your path to achieve balance and health in these turbulent times we are living in.
I struggled hard to paint vivid pictures with my words only and to avoid comma mistakes (thanks to this, hey I still did it manually). Thanks for giving this a read and/or your feedback!