11/6/19 “Curiouser and curiouser”: How can we make yoga work for us?

This is a low lunge / crescent pose (complete with a funny facial expression). Photography: Alex and Kseniia Spodyneiko
This also is a low lunge / crescent pose. Photography: Alex Spodyneiko

“We don’t use the body to get into a pose — we use the pose to get into the body.” (unknown)

Several years ago, after a class at a studio where there was nary a mirror in sight, a woman approached me to ask how she might begin to know whether she is doing the pose correctly without an opportunity to check her alignment. She had suffered an injury recently after attending another class in which she pushed herself too far into a pose, and understandably, she was feeling apprehensive about yoga. At the time, I was starting to question whether some of the strict alignment cues that I learned in my initial teacher training in 2010 and which I continued to hear from other yoga teachers around me might not be serving us and might, in fact, be creating undue tension in the body instead of contributing to a relaxation response.
 
Today, my focus is on creating a practice and guiding classes that focus primarily on self-care through proprioception and interoception. The latter two are fancy terms for learning how the body moves and observing the sensations we experience within the body, as well as the emotional and mental response, during practice. I believe that a yoga practice should keep us curious about our experience, and that experience is never static because our bodies, minds, and emotions change every day, throughout the day. When we are open to asking ourselves about what we want out of a practice, then listen attentively and choose a mindful response, a 6 a.m. practice would likely feel very different compared to one later in the day.
 
I put an emphasis on the word ‘feel’ because it leads me to the central message, as well as the answer I gave to that lady several years ago. It’s also the answer I give today to anyone who asks about what correct alignment in a given pose should look like: To know whether you are practising a pose correctly, ask yourself whether the pose feels right in your body and whether you can breathe smoothly while sustaining the shape. This is also why, at 3118 Yoga, we focus on slower flows and gentle approaches to strong practices. When we give ourselves permission to slow down, we are better able to tune in to how we’re feeling.

In our practice, we choose to move in a way that feels right, exploring healthy mobility, rather than focusing on performance and forcing the body into deeper flexibility. 

Here are a few tips for your next practice:

1. Sit for a few minutes and observe what’s here. How are you feeling on a physiological level, as well as mentally and emotionally. Keep asking yourself, “What is here now?” Choose to stay curious, letting go of judgment. Simply observe.

2. Start to move slowly and allow your movement to be guided by your breath. 

3. Allow your inhalation and exhalation to bring you in and out of each pose. Once in the pose, give yourself time to settle into it, making gentle movements while exploring how it feels to come into a new shape.

4. If anything does not feel right, change the shape by softening your joints and choosing a different variation. Listen to your body and trust its guidance.

If you’re unsure about whether something should feel a certain way, ask your teacher! You don’t have to feel the need to wait until after class to ask a question about how you can change a pose to suit your body. 

Keep reminding yourself of your intentions for your practice. Why do you want to practise yoga? Be honest with yourself about why you step on your mat each time, and stay curious about your experience. 

Keep exploring!

Warmly,

Katia

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