Often, when talking about yoga, we talk about ‘going deeper into a pose’. People often interpret this as stretching further or bending more; they think that it’s about putting more physical effort in. When we push our bodies into poses where they aren’t comfortable, we can cause an injury. When I think about going deeper into a pose, I think about several things:
What small physical adjustments can I make to ensure that my body is correctly aligned? For instance, if I’m in downward dog: Is the weight spread evenly between my hands and feet? Are my fingers splayed wide and my biceps rotated forward? Are my shoulders relaxed away from my ears and is my face relaxed? Is my back long? Are my hips reaching towards the ceiling? Are my heels moving towards the floor? So, it’s less about striving or straining, and more about minor modifications I can make to ensure my body is in the best position to stretch and strengthen my muscles, rather than damaging myself to reach further.
Softening into the pose using my breath
What does it mean to ‘soften into a pose’? In all things in life, I’ve always tended to want to push a little further and achieve a bit more. When I first started yoga, I always wanted to stretch further, push harder; that equalled a few self-inflicted injuries! I’ve come to realise over time that the more I push, the more I’m likely to hurt myself. Instead of tensing, I now relax into the pose, focusing on my breathing. Soft, deep, even breaths allow my muscles to relax, and my body to go to a point that is good for me, and no further.
Bringing awareness to the pose
For me, this is nub of ‘going deeper’. When I ‘go deeper’, my mind becomes totally absorbed in the pose, forgets to hop from thought to thought. I focus on deepening my awareness of the sensations in my body and my mind. It’s about observing myself, turning my gaze inward and becoming immersed in the pose, totally in the moment, not reflecting on the past or anticipating the future. My mind focuses and therefore becomes calm and blessedly still.
So the next time your yoga teacher encourages you to ‘go deeper into the pose’, don’t pull a hamstring trying to reach your toes; instead, check your alignment, soften into the pose using your breath and bring your awareness 100% to the pose. This will stretch and strengthen your body and, perhaps more importantly, bring peace and calm to your mind.