by Katie Hoener
I am really struggling with a few postures recently in a class with my favorite teacher. I try so hard to get into these, and I am not sure if I am helping myself in these spaces. Have you ever experienced something like this? How do I move through or around this issue?
Jill, Ann Arbor
This is a wonderful insight and gets to the heart of the practice of yoga. And to answer your first question succinctly, yes! Nearly all yogis have an asana that early in their yogic journey has been perceived as a nemesis. I have had many yogic struggles over several decades of practice. My recent challenge to embrace has been with Malasana, the Yogi Squat. Some people are designed for this space. I am not.
There is a learning video by Paul Grilley called "Anatomy of Yoga" which describes in detail the difference between tension and compression in the body. When we feel tension in the body, a tight muscle, or group of muscles, these are things we can work with in a yoga posture. Compression, however, is resistance in the body for a reason; bones bumping into one another for example. Having this body awareness can be an important part of what we are trying to do with a posture. Check with the postures being offered in your class. Are you sensing compression in the body? Points of pinching and pain? Are there ways the asanas can be modified?
In Malasana, I have to come back to the advice that I so often give in class, “take what works for you and lovingly let go of the rest.” There are days when I can settle down into this squat, and, as a runner, the opening for the hips, feet and lower back, is exactly what I need. There are days where that settling in may be for a few breaths,and days where staying longer is okay. Allow yourself to find your space. Take what you need and leave the rest. Forcing an asana will not create trust in the body. If you are allow yourself to back out, and find a new way in, you may very well find the perfect place to be.
I have been paying attention to your column and want to make sure that I am moving deeper into a few postures in a mindful and careful way. Is there a book that you can recommend that describes a progressive way to do this? I am not able to attend classes on a regular basis at this time.
Molly, Ann Arbor
Great observations of your practice and your asanas! This is a great place to be. I was just having discussions with a group about the importance of body awareness the other day, and making progress through postures is a great way to connect with our own bodies.
A fantastic book for a holistic approach to body awareness, self-realization, and deepening an asana practice through a careful look at breath and posture is Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffman. This particular book spends time discussing practices of bringing ourselves into our practice, exploring lines of energy, and how to deepen an entire series of asanas. It explains the idea of moving slowly and being in tune with where we are in each moment. Take your time, and explore aspects of this book at a pace that makes sense to you.
I was talking to my friend the other day about challenging balance postures and saying that they are often so difficult for me. I have a class that consists of a series of balance postures, and I think they are the hardest thing. Is there anything that I can do to get better?
Alicia, Ann Arbor
Balance is a tricky thing and is connected so highly with the sixth chakra, the third eye, as it often draws us into an incredible amount of focus. For some of us, finding that alignment and balance is a more natural space, while for others, we draw on that deep focus. For all of us balance can shift from moment to moment, from side to side, and certainly from day to day. There is no telling when we begin our journey into balance what the outcome will be! At times this is frustrating and at times exciting, depending on your perspective.
The Bhagavad Gita, one of our foundational Yogic texts, states, “Action alone is the province, never the fruits thereof; let not the motivation be the fruit of the action, nor should thou desire to avoid action" (2.47). Most of us would break this down as needing to let go of the results. Balance postures are one of the greatest places to challenge the ego on the notion of finding our fit rather than moving toward a particular outcome.
All balance postures have an incremental nature to them. For example, Nataranjasana or Dancer’s Pose, can be taken through a number of steps. One can start by tracing the toes out behind them, leaving the toes on the mat. Or, if it feels right, we can find the foot with the hand. The grounded leg should remain strong and soft, checking that we are not locking the knee. If it feels right, and the body is ready, let the foot float up to the hand and hold that space. We can continue by leading with the heart and moving the heart forward until we find that space where we are challenged and secure, steady and comfortable.
Katie Hoener is an RYT 500, receiving her 200 and 500 hour trainings. She is also a Licensed Master Social Worker. She is a partner at Verapose Yoga in Dexter (www.veraposeyoga.com). Please send your own yoga questions to Katie@veraposeyoga.com.