Yoga posture practice is an exciting and joyful way to become aware of and re-map our non-integrated, unskilled movement patterns and thus move and live with more ease and enjoyment.
As you learn the overt and then subtle movements of yoga posture practice, please let your experience be guided by sensations that come from using your muscles to move your bones.
It does not take any kind of anatomical or neuromuscular or scientific knowledge for you to do this. Though we (your teachers) may refer to the names of muscles contracting this or that way; you only need be deliberate about your actions and conscious of their impacts based on the sensations generated by the movement.
If you notice yourself imposing external agendas such as goals, images you’ve seen in magazines, or something someone has said to you that distracts you from the sensory information you are getting from the movements, please go back to the idea of being only guided by your internal sensations.
You need not evaluate, judge or impose value on these sensations, but simply continue to observe them as closely as you can. You will soon begin to be more aware of what you are doing in the present moment.
Effort: The amount of effort required is defined by the movement or action being made. Meet and match that which is being asked of you by the posture or the movement – by observing the sensations generated by the movements into and out of the postures and the postures themselves, you will find the precise middle path between over exertion and underexertion.
Underexertion leads to structural collapse and over exertion leads to oxygen debt, heavier breathing, externalized awareness and diminished sensitivity.
Beyond Stretch: Increasing range of motion is one of the main reasons people turn to yoga. And most think that stretching muscles is the way to do this. The word stretch is attributed to both an action and to a sensation. If you think about muscles stretching like stretching a piece of fabric over a frame you would could conclude that stretching something makes it thin and taught – and that there is an endpoint. This is also the case with our muscles.
Though there may be a small amount of stretching that needs to happen, in most cases, if the dominant sensation is stretch, you may be imposing the external interests and agendas of a perceived ideal on your body instead of systematically and sensitively becoming aware of and able to access your capacity for a movement.
Stability and Comfort
In yoga posture practice the most obvious sensation needs to be one of movement – you may think that a forward bend is a simple and beginner posture but it is actually a complex multi-joint movement.
The experience of a forward bend, as with any yoga posture depends on our body becoming stable and comfortable, so much so that we lose our sense of restricted solidity. This requires a systematic “learning” of the movements that make up a forward bend or whatever the posture is – in your body. Over and over again through practice you will become aware of the distinctions such as arms, legs, or back , front or core and surface via the sensations that you are generating. As you are repeatedly reminded of the distinctions via your practice and depending on lots of other things like how much sleep you had last night, how you have been eating, work, relationships etc… the solidity of the distinctions dissolve and the enjoyment of the experience and sheer presence shines through.
Here are some guidelines for yoga posture practice from The Little Book of Bandhas by Godfrey Deveroux
• Be sensitive to your actions and their impacts
• so that you are as stable and comfortable as possible
• by using the minimum necessary muscular effort possible
• to softly broaden whatever can be broadened
• and softly lengthen whatever can be lengthened
• and softly ground whatever can be grounded
• while allowing your breath to flow freely.
To the extent we can use these guidelines in our yoga posture practice no matter how beginner or advanced we are, we will simultaneously release unskilled movements and actions, while developing new, skillful ones.
And it is the sheer satisfying delight of this above anything else that brings us happily back to our mat over and over again without any need for strain, stretch or struggle.