Are you looking for more progress in your yoga postures? Maybe especially for that one yoga posture where there doesn't seem to be any progress, even while months are passing by? Maybe even while your yoga posture looks fine anatomically from the perspective of the yoga teacher. Or maybe you just feel stuck in that specific yoga posture.
Besides working one on one with a yoga teacher, the recommendations from this yoga blog series could also help. Where the yoga blog “Yoga Posture Breakthroughs Part 1” is about working from where you are (instead of acting as if you are further in the process), Part 2 is about using your body intelligence. So also this blog post isn’t about working harder, but about working smarter.
Your body is smart and takes care of you
See what happens in your cells automatically
To work with the tip of this yoga blog, it helps to realize that our body works very intelligently.
A lot of processes in our body happen without having to start the process consciously. Like for example our breathing and our heart rate. Although we can consciously influence them, usually we breathe (and have a heartbeat) without us interfering. I think that is something to be grateful for: imagine if we had to use our attention on this even when we are sleeping.
However, the precision and methodology of what happens in our body goes so much deeper. I was amazed by this animation (Harvard BioVisions: The Inner Life of the Cell, in the video below) of what happens in a body cell. Especially the part from minute 3:00 to 3:57.
It also gave me a sense of freedom. By realizing that my body takes care of me and that it’s okay to release tension, to let go more. That no matter how much goes wrong in our body, there is always going to be more going right in a living person than has gone wrong. During every day we live all those cells are still doing their job!
To be able to carry out all these processes, our cells use a consciousness, an intelligence. And just as we can sense how we are breathing, we can observe more signals from our body. By tuning in.
With the yoga posture in mind that you want to work on, zoom in which sensations you feel in the posture. First recognize what feels good.
Then, feel if there is anything that feels uncomfortable or painful? Or maybe you feel stuck in a specific place, like there is no room for maneuver? Focus your attention even more on this area. What exactly do you feel: what are the sensations? What is your body asking for? For example, for more space? Or to release more tension? Or for more support? And how does that area respond to your breathing?
Maybe it gives you peace of mind to tune in. Or maybe you don't like it at all. Sometimes it is confronting because it also makes you aware of where you actually are in your practice. Also about what is not appropriate for you (yet). If so, please remind yourself that it is never about the yoga posture. And whatever you feel, it is "just" information. No judgment, just helpful information!
Body intelligence in yoga postures
Two essential principles that are necessary for individual body cells to survive are a) integrity and b) relationship. These principles are also very important in a wider context than the cells alone. So also in yoga postures, where we work with the body.
A cell needs integrity in order to distinguish between what is part of the cell itself and what is not. For example, it has the discernment not to let just anything pass through the cell wall, so that the cell still remains the cell. Integrity ensures that you never lose yourself. Translated to yoga postures: suppose there is so much pressure on the knee joint that an injury occurs, then this comes at the expense of the integrity of that joint. Respecting the boundaries of your body is therefore also a form of maintaining integrity.
By tuning inward and feeling the signals that the body is sending, you can work on a more subtle level. For example, do you feel that you need more stability or more space? Feel how you can create what you need. Try different variations, adjustments or modifications. Do you feel that you are maintaining integrity in the area where you feel the sensations? After all, a sensation can also mean that it is simply a movement that the body is not yet used to. So a sensation doesn’t always need to be something you have to change, it can also be the result of the change.
Going inward with your awareness requires a certain degree of self-confidence and self-esteem. Confidence that you can feel what your body needs. To have the courage to make helpful adjustments, whether you are in the presence of others (such as your yoga teacher or other classmates) or not. Without shame and without blaming others. To dare to take responsibility for what happens to your body. To experience contentment, regardless of what your body can or cannot do.
Self-confidence and self-esteem interact with integrity in a two-ways street. By using your self-confidence and self-respect, it is easier to respect the limits of your body. By working with integrity in your yoga postures, you also work on self-confidence and self-esteem. So it works both ways.
In addition to integrity, a cell also needs relationships. The cells function in an open system where it absorbs and releases things through the cell wall. In the same way that the cell is in relation to all that it touches, one body part also affects body parts next to it. In this way, the different body parts form chains throughout the body. For example, the placement of your feet has an effect on the position of your shoulders through many links of bones, muscles, ligaments and tissues.
By nature and nurture everyone has their own mix of strength, flexibility and habits. Since using our strengths is the easiest way (short term), usually these patterns strengthen over time even more. So the weaker parts stay weak, and the stronger parts become even stronger. Completely human and understandable, but it aggravates unbalances in the relationship between the parts. To create more balance in the body, it is important to also pay attention to strengthening the relative weaker parts. Luckily, everything you give attention grows, so you can improve the quality of the relationships within your body.
My kneecaps, for example, are naturally very flexible: the bone is flatter than usual (so has less grip with the rest of the joint) and the ligaments around the joint are very long. In order to practice my yoga postures with integrity (to prevent dislocation) I have paid a lot of attention to becoming aware of the sensations my knee ligaments provide me. In addition, I make use of the relationship that the knee joint has with the leg muscles: by strengthening my thigh muscles, these muscles now keep my knee joint more stable. There is also a relationship between the knee joint, the ankle and the hips: by maintaining integrity in the movements of these joints in relation to each other, I prevent disproportionate pressure on my kneecap.
The principles of integrity & relationship are therefore not only important for the functioning of individual cells. Our body as a whole also requires it. And if this is not taken into account, your body will start to send signals. First carefully. If the response is not adequate, these signals become more and more intense (until they scream at you).
Creating more balance/homeostasis in the body therefore requires strengthening the relatively weak areas and making the relatively stiff areas more flexible. This solves the energy leak in the "weakest link". So that the different parts in your body can communicate well with each other and take care of you even better.
Tuning inward as part of the eightfold yoga path
By tuning inward and using the sensations as signals, we can use this body intelligence to both make our yoga postures more therapeutic and to create progress.
Further, tuning inward makes you not only work on asana (yoga postures), but also on another part of the eightfold yoga path as described by Patanjali: namely Pratyahara. And the concentration and fixation you use is a preparation for yet another step of this eightfold yoga path: Dharana.
By working with the subtle sensations, practicing yoga asana in this way is literally a practice of “embodiment”. Instead of just using the alignment cues, where the brain tells us what to do as a director, there is an interaction with the body. A dialogue in which even the individual cells transmit messages and you listen to your body; to the “issues in the tissues”. Hence we speak of an “embodiment” in de yoga practice.
Which (subtle) sensations do you feel in the yoga posture? What is your body asking for?
- How does your breathing feel?
- Does the yoga pose feel easy or uncomfortable?
- Where does your body need more stability?
- Where does your body need more space?
- Is there tension that you would like to release? Are there things you are keeping in that you would like to let out?
- Are there things you are letting out you would like to keep in?
- How does your body respond to your breathing?
- If you feel discomfort somewhere, how does it feel when you visualize as if those cells are breathing? Does something happen to the blood circulation to that area?
Enjoy your habits today with love and light.
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