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 farther and deeper than the physical – to yet un-encountered cognitive, spiritual and emotional realms. For example, Pitta and Vatta types might get bored with, and distracted while holding, sustained postures (especially in such forms as Restorative and Yin Yoga). Continuing to play the body’s subtle dance of its parts working together – throughout a class or private practice – can be an enjoyable intellectual exercise to prevent that. Kapha types can tend to lack motivation, so doing so is a way for them to always having something accessible to work towards.
For all dosha types, engaging in dynamic practice can offer a sense of energizing that fulfills emotional and spiritual needs; once stronger and more aligned, breath-filled, and graceful postures are established through continued subtle refinement, we can enjoy coming closer to reaching our physical and mental potentials. Our bodies and minds productively worked to create those improved postures!
Realizations such as that can offer healing to those who lack confidence and self-esteem, and suffer from the associated painful feelings. They can re-frame the mindset of one who has perhaps had several consecutive setbacks – to that success is possible, even if at the moment it feels like nothing can go right. For others seeking spiritual purpose in their lives, reaching a more refined and enhanced physical state can bring a powerful sense of coming closer to the Divine – whatever that term uniquely means to them.
In the same way, certain populations can especially benefit from this dynamic approach to yoga practice. For instance, Angela Pirisi describes in Yoga Journal’s “Yoga for Boomers and Beyond” how “slow and gentle allows an aging body to go deeper into the pose.” That ability is even more necessary for aging bodies because with their common ailments – such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and even more widespread general stiffening of joints – “making space in the joints in the body is the most important thing”.
Using concrete images and analogies can allow instructors to lead students – of any age or physical condition – closer to achieving such making space in the body. Consider the previously described postures, for instance. While leading students in Warrior I instructors can advise them to imagine that their legs are traveling downwards like one of those baskets that electrical company workers travel up and down on – slow, sustained, and staying on a consistent vertical track (rather than veering side to side). From this students can reach a deeper stretch within the posture while also keeping the front knee tracking safely over the ankle. Folding – in both standing and sitting – can also become deeper, more energizing and less injury-prone with offered images such as slowly and carefully applying a line of tape or attaching a piece of Velcro.
For this humble author, the benefits of approaching yoga postures and practice as constantly shifting, growing, and deepening in these ways are undeniable. It takes the experience of doing so to truly understand and appreciate the magic that can result, however; there are endless possible qualities and feelings that can hardly be put into words. So, the mat is calling you to further discover what can grace you then – in body, mind, spirit, and more.
“Dynamic”. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. 10 March 2013.
“Posture”. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. 10 March 2013.
Pirisi, Angela. “Yoga for Boomers and Beyond”. 11 March 2013.
© Copyright – Kathryn Boland / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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