Yoga Explorer Foundational Knowledge. Part 1 - General concepts.
Updated: Feb 16
What do you need to know as a fresh yoga explorer? Here is the first one from my series of articles to help you realize, what are the essential areas of knowledge to explore, to get a good foundation in understanding of yoga practice.
There are a few universal truths that work for everybody and every practice. Try to internalize these and always keep them in mind during your practice. It will benefit you on many levels.
Concept #1: Yoga means not only stretching, but also strengthening at the same time.
Many people from the outside of yoga world think, that yoga is just stretching. Asana practitioners know exactly that it is not only this. But in fact, it is important to note, WHY stretching must be balanced by strengthening of these muscles.
Jason Crandell in one of his trainings I took, is very well explaining the mechanism, why is this vital. Imagine a facial tissue, and try to stretch it. The material is weak and is going to tear apart. Now imagine, let's say, a bedsheet and try to stretch it in the opposite directions. It is not easy to tear the bedsheet with your hands, because the material is strong, whereas the tissue can be torn by using just your fingers.
The same analogy applies to weak and strong muscles. When we are stretching weak muslces, we are more prone to injuries. Strong muscles are safer to stretch, and in addition, it comes with a bonus. If you strengthen your muscles, they actually achieve greater reange of motion, this is true!
Don‘t be afraid to exercise your muscle, because you think it is going to be tight. It will only be tight in two situations:
• Situation #1: you never stretch it (which is rather unlikely in yoga)
• Situation #2: other muscels in this group are weak, and that muscle has to take over their tasks, contracting even in situations, where it normally should not (read below)
From the above situation #2 we can draw a conlcusion, that hollistic strengthening of the muscle groups may release some of them from doing the duties of others, thus allowing for release and greater flexibility. So you get a bonus flexibility from the strong muscles!
Another reason why it is very important to keep your muscles strong are joints. They are places in our body that allow for movement, and there may be repetitive moves and loads placed upon them while doing yoga. Strong muscles keep our joints stabilized and safe. Early on in our practice, in the first years, we may not notice any issues with the joints, but if we do not take care of them, problems may appear later as we age. Strong muscle base for every joint is very helpful in maintaining them happy and healthy.
Concept #2: All bodies are different.
This is a fact. And we hear it all the time in yoga: „everyone is different”, „all people have different bodies”, but what concrete things about our bodies are actually different? How to precisely understand this phrase, that everyone keeps repeating all the time?
Except of physical features that are quite obvious like sizes of the body, there are actually little details that can make a big difference. I realized that in an anatomy lesson in the course I did recently. It was an a-ha! moment for me. For example, some people's anterior superior iliac spine sticks out more than the others', it is just how their bones are built. And for that reason, rolling on the back, as for me, may be just painful. There are plenty of such things that make a difference in your yoga practice, and you need to modify according to your body.
Because all the bodies are different, modification is not a sign of weakness. Not being able to do some poses in a way that is prescribed in the typical pose alignment does not mean that you have to push more to get into the pose, or that you are just not good enough. Typical alignments are general indications and they do not work for every body type. This is where you deepen your practice: by understanding that fact, and modifying the pose to suit your body. This is when you make the practice individualized and when you really own it.
Concept #3: One correct solution doesn’t exist.
As we said above, typical pose alignments are general instructions. We can call them recommendations. But depending on body types, there are additional factors for the pose alignment:
- where we are in our practice,
- what do we want to achieve in this pose,
- what injuries or conditions we are working with,
- how we feel like that given day,
- what style of yoga we are practising.
Never try to force yourself in the „ideal” alignment when it does not feel right to you. When you feel pain, when you can't sustain your breath, when you cannot keep the balance, when for any reason you cannot sustainably hold the pose – go ahead and take the modification. We are not passing an exam with grades, we are not here to show off – we are doing this for the wellness of our bodies and minds, so it needs to feel right. Make it your own.
The postures are sometimes modified to target different muscles, focus on various body areas, for different stages in life (pregnancy, kids yoga, senior yoga, injury recovery). All those different situations need individual attention and slight adjustments of the posture.
Getting a narrower or wider stands, using props, not going so far – is still doing the pose. It is still benefiting our body, and it is not wrong. Sometimes we should even not do some poses, depending on our state and injuries. There is no one correct solution for everybody and everything, such is life and such is yoga. There is no ultimate „right”. Yoga is here for us to understand and play with, move into it and move in it, to serve us well.
I hope that these three ideas will deepen your understanding of yoga. Which one of them most resonates with you? Which one changed your mindset already? Are there any other important concepts that you think are crucial for the fulfillment of our practice? Please let me know in the comments below.
Continue reading the posts from my Foundational Yoga Explorer Knowledge series here:
Part 2 - Technical aspects
Part 3 - Cultural heritage
Enjoy your exploration on and off the mat!
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