Have you ever tried to recreate the “shape” of a yoga posture, in an attempt to make it “fit” even though your body is struggling? Maybe you are trying to replicate the posture being demonstrated by your teacher or maybe you have an idea of how this posture “should” look from seeing something similar on instagram or in a magazine. If this is the case you are probably not alone and it may be that a kinder approach and deep listening to the body is needed instead. Rather than superimposing a yoga posture upon yourself try this… when practising yoga let the messages your body gives you about how it is moment to moment translate in to a yoga posture. Then, remain curious as to what arises and trust that, in this moment that this is the right yoga “shape”, the right posture for you. It is important to be yourself in the posture and not try to do someone else’s pose.
Our yoga practice should be a process of deep internal listening. The body has its own wisdom and our job is to get quiet enough to be able to hear it and respond accordingly. But how do we first get quiet enough to listen? This is where gentle focus of the mind comes in. We can rest our attention upon the breath and arising sensations in the body as a means of focussing the mind. Holding the focus of our attention in this way is referred to in yoga as Dharana and over time it naturally leads to the more meditative quiet state of mind referred to as Dhyana. With this quieter mind it is easier to listen internally, pay attention to our experience and act upon what the body is telling us. This skill can be developed during our yoga practice and it serves us not only in yoga but extends also in to our daily life. If in daily life we are constantly over riding the messages the body is giving us (for instance to rest, avoid certain foods that don’t agree with us etc) it is only a matter of time before we become unwell. By learning to listen to the body and skilfully be able to give it what it needs we are honouring ourselves and our ability to stay healthy and well.
Another useful approach to our yoga postures is to think about why are we doing this pose? What are the benefits of the posture and with this in mind approaching the posture to elicit these benefits. For example if we are taking the reverse triangle we are capable of receiving a wonderful spinal rotation. Done correctly we mobilise our spine, release tension from our back muscles, increase circulation to our spinal nerves and gently massage our internal organs as well as stretching our legs. However if we think that our hand must reach our ankle or the floor in this pose, and the body is unable to do this whilst also maintaining alignment, then we miss out on these numerous benefits. In this example, taking the hand further up the leg (or on to a series of blocks) may allow us to open up and align the torso into a rotation that we can then benefit from. So changing our approach to the posture so that we ask “How can I gain the benefits of the pose within the limitations my body may present?” might also encourage this deep internal listening and steer us away from the unhealthy practice of recreating shapes.
It could also be argued that if we are not applying this “internal listening” whilst approaching and being in our postures we are not really honouring what yoga is about. In yoga we are integrating body, mind and breath if however we are over riding the body’s messages because we have an over ambitious competitive mind we are in fact creating more of a separation between body, mind and breath and moving away from the union of these aspects of ourselves that is yoga.
So next time you practice pay close attention to what you are experiencing in the body and let this information guide you in to the pose. Keep listening internally, so that you can determine, as you remain in the posture whether to go deeper in to it or ease up a little. Which part of the body is “calling you out of the posture” if for instance it is a raised arm can you lower it and notice how the body responds now? Maybe it is happy to remain in the position now that it is more comfortable. Listen to the internal cues that call you out of the posture and avoid coming out of the pose “automatically” Remember always to guide your mind back if it becomes distracted so that you continue to practice with the body’s consent. Approaching your yoga in this way will deepen and enrich your practise. Enjoy!
Kath Turner Yoga August 2020