Those in our culture who haven’t yet practiced yoga – or those with limited practice experience – often think that it mainly involves holding “poses” for extended periods of time, without moving (excepting the widespread familiarity with styles that are more continuous movement-based, such as Bikram and “Power” Vinyasa). On the contrary, seeking to keep postures dynamic rather than static can greatly enhance physical yoga’s innumerable physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual benefits. Instructors can lead students to more consistently do so, in the ways that will serve their unique practices and selves, through such tools as concrete images and commonly relatable analogies.
We can beneficially think of yoga postures in these ways, as ever-moving and changing positions of the body for specific purposes – and which reflect our inner and outer conditions at the time. Doing so can lead yoga practitioners to safely deepen postures in a way that enhances strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, and aerobic capacity – all the while flowing from point A to point B when the body is ready.
For instance, Warrior I Posture is full of complex pushes-and-pulls in the body that practitioners can subtly refine in order to enhance the posture’s benefits; one can simultaneously work towards strengthening through the back-supporting inner leg, drawing the tailbone downwards, and pulling the opposing (of the standing leg) hip forward while the other draws back. These efforts will bring greater awareness of how safe alignment feels in the body, increased strengthening of both working legs, and a gradually deeper stretch.
In twisting postures one can enjoy the subtle dance of lengthening the spine with each inhale and slightly deepening into the twist with each exhale. This process will create more space for essential breath and movement of the spinal vertebrae. It can then allow for intensifying of the stretch that is less likely to cause muscle strain or tearing, because it can happen in our bodies’ own times. In the same way, during folding postures – such as Seated Forward Fold and Uttanasana – lengthening while inhaling and falling deeper into the stretch while exhaling can create a greater stretch that most likely avoids forcing muscles to places where they are not yet ready to go (read: red flag for injury).
Continuously refining postures in these ways can engage practitioners’ minds and spirits in ways that extend their practices’ benefits