Thursday, August 30, 2012

Find the Stillness in Your Postures

Last summer I wore a pair of white Havianas almost every day. In August when the weather got nice we took long walks around Stanley Park and all over downtown. By the end of the summer I felt the damage my flip flops had done. My lower back was sore, my left hip ached and my ankles hurt too. Every time I put my shoes on all those familiar pains were there but I just kept wearing them, they were too easy to put on and toss off at the end of the day.

This summer I was in Germany and was reminded that I needed to update my footwear when I saw some Birkenstocks on sale. I had never considered wearing them but heard they were supposed to be really good for your posture and were kinder to your body than regular flip flops. I know they're not the most stylish of shoes so I tried on a bunch of different styles before settling on some shiny red ones. They didn't have my size at the time but somehow my parents found the correct size in another store and gave me a pair for my birthday!

I decided to test them out one day on my walk to the yoga studio. I walked across the street and at first they felt weird, my feet were not used to such stiff shoes and being held into proper alignment by a strap...

Then I walked by the park and I started to noticed the arch support felt pretty good on the soles of my feet...

By the time I was walking up Lawrence Street I could feel a difference in my whole body. My ankles were not sore and my hips felt more aligned. Even though my left hip always feels tight I was now able to walk normally instead of compromising my gait...

Suddenly I was hit with a thought - what if I did the same thing in yoga class? What if I just let my body feel the tightness it has in certain areas and don't do anything to overcompensate? I thought to myself, if my left hip wants to be tight all class it can just go ahead!

We started Hands-To-Feet Pose and I felt resistance in my hip as I tried to lock my knees. I realized that my normal habit is to shift my body weight to my right hip more so I could stretch around the tightness and get deeper. Today however when I got to the point in the posture where my body gave me feedback I stopped right there and just held the posture until the teacher said change.

I suddenly remembered the many times while taking class that I had heard the teacher talk about observing the stillness in your postures. I always took this to mean that it's important to make sure you hold the postures for the specified time and don't come out early. However, I realized it also applies to going into the posture the right way and then when you can't go any further, holding still without breaking the form. Practicing this way made me more aware of what was going on inside my body in yoga class.

Now that I am mindful of the stillness in my postures I am noticing all kinds of bad habits that I have in class. When I sit down in Awkward Pose I always sway to the right to work around my tight left hip. When I do Cobra Pose I don't squeeze my heels together enough and when I lift up my shoulders are crooked because I haven't stretched out and realigned my hips enough yet. These are just a couple of examples!

Stillness is part of Asana, it allows you to look inward and see how the pose is affecting your body. By holding the posture at your deepest point you will become aware of the tight areas in your body that need to be stretched into. Once you get to the part of the posture where your body can't go any further, just breathe. The stillness will allow your body to relax and instead of stretching around the tight spot, you will be able to stretch into that area and that's when the yoga really starts to work.

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