Monthly Archives: October 2012
We all have our favorite yoga postures. They’re the ones that help us focus and relax immediately and feel like old friends. And, we usually practice them the same way every time. The downside to these favorite postures is that they can become habit. In other words, we no longer approach the posture with a beginner’s mind, a mind open to observation and new information, because they are very familiar. We “know” how they feel and what to expect.
The next time you feel a tad stuck in a rut, try exploring and playing with some of your favorite postures. For example, when I do a forward bend (uttanasana) my usual routine is to exhale into the forward bend and inhale back up to standing. I really like feeling the stretch in my low back as I exhale forward and the expansion in my chest as I inhale back up. And, I’ve been doing this breathing pattern for years.
What if I reversed the breathing pattern and inhaled into the forward bend and exhaled back up to standing? It really took concentration to reprogram my pattern – old habits die hard. A couple of things happened that were interesting. First of all, inhaling into forward bend meant I had to move faster to pace my movement with the length of the breath. Second, my feet felt much more grounded as I exhaled back up to standing. It was a good experiment. A word of caution, if you have high blood pressure, inhaling into postures like forward bend and down dog is contraindicated and can be hard on the blood pump because the head goes below the heart as you move into the posture.
Another posture I reversed the breathing pattern in was bridge (dvipada pitham) where I exhaled up (instead of inhaling up) and inhaled down (versus exhaling down). The new pattern felt better on my low back – something I never would have discovered without shaking things up for myself.
Vary your routine, experiment with different breathing patterns and observe with a beginner’s mind.
The 46th Sutra in Chapter 2 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, describes the qualities of an asana. It says “Sthira-Sukham Asanam“. Asana is the Sanskrit word for posture or pose and this Sutra says that there are dual qualities – Sthira and Sukham – people experience in a posture.
Sthira relates to the ability to be steady, stable and alert and when this quality exists, you feel no tension, tightness or mental distraction in the posture. Sukham relates to the ability to be comfortable and relaxed and when this quality exists, you feel relaxed but not sleepy, dull or lethargic.
The other morning I was doing balance asanas as part of my practice and it became quickly apparent that these qualities of Sthira and Sukham were missing. I was wobbly and unfocused and becoming frustrated and tense with my attempts at the posture. As I stopped my attempts and observed myself, it occurred to me that today probably wasn’t the day for balance postures even though normally I feel fine in them. Lesson learned: Try later when I can be stable and comfortable in the posture. Yoga isn’t about “forcing” yourself and “muscling” through. So, I moved on to asanas that did allow me to feel more Sthira and Sukham.
And, when learning new asanas, we don’t always feel stable and comfortable at the beginning. That’s okay and normal. Eventually, with practice, you’ll experience these qualities. But, of course, if you feel pain —- stop!
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