February 11, 2020

The 3 Phases of a Yoga Pose

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In this podcast we will explore the 3 Phases of a Yoga Pose.

These 3 insights, when practiced consistently, will set you up for a strong and powerful yoga practice for years to come.

Hope you enjoy this inspiring episode!

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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]

Welcome to the BE ULTIMATE Podcast.

This week’s podcast is about how you maximize your time in a yoga pose. At the same time, how you increase the quality of your yoga practice. You know I’ve been teaching now for well over 15 years. And I’ve taught thousands of students all around the world in many different contexts: festivals, retreats, public classes. I’ve seen people really flourish within their yoga practice, and at the same time, I’ve seen people really struggle.

For the yoga teachers out there listening you know when you’re in the seat of the teacher, you can really see a lot with your students. A lot of what we see within our students on the yoga mat is probably applicable to their habits and the things they tend to repeat within other areas of their life.

So I want to take what I’ve seen from these last 15 years, and I want to give you a formula that hopefully will help you deepen your yoga practice. As you move through yoga poses you can have this in the back of your head. In the beginning, it might be something you’ll have to think about. But eventually, like myself, this will become something you just automatically do because it’s in your subconscious.

Now these three phases of a yoga pose, these three insights, are pretty common sense. But as we know common sense isn’t always common practice. So I want to really unpack these and explore this. And by the way, they can be used in all the different styles of yoga whether that’s power yoga, vinyasa yoga, even yin yoga, restorative yoga, hatha yoga. These are applicable to all styles of yoga. And on some level, it’s also applicable to really all forms of movement whether that’s running or sports or whatever it is.

By practicing these, you will greatly enhance your practice. So let’s jump into the three phases of a yoga pose.

  1. Find the Alignment

Number one, find the alignment. You see, you have to start, when you’re in a yoga posture, with your physical body. You have to get the scaffolding of the pose in a position that supports strength, stability, and creates a nice strong foundation. We want the foundation of the yoga pose, just like the foundation of a skyscraper, to be strong so that everything that’s built upon that foundation, including these other two phases that we’re gonna get into after step one, you’re really set up for success.

You see, safety comes first. We hear that in the workplace. You might hear that on a film set when they’re doing stunts, or they’re going to blow up a building or whatever it is. It’s always about safety because if you’re not safe then obviously you’re going to potentially get hurt. And if you get a serious injury that could knock you out of your yoga game for weeks or months or some people for many years, and that’s not a pretty picture.

We want to make sure the alignment is really dialed in and we have good integrity within the body.

Integrity in yoga means a joint is balanced and even on all sides.

So when a joint is misaligned, then we start to create an imbalance in that joint. Now we start to lose the strength, and we start to lose the stability, and then we risk something called impingement. Impingement might be where bone is grinding into a bone, or you may even be grinding into a nerve, and then you get a sharp pain. When we have this impingement and we repeat it over and over again, then it’s inevitable that’ll lead to an injury.

I want you to really think about when you’re doing your yoga poses are your joints in that state of integrity. It should feel like your joints are open and balanced, the muscles are properly engaged, you’re not collapsing into the joint, you’re not sitting into the joint.

In addition to mitigating unnecessary injury and pain, in yoga, we have two types of pain.

There is a good type of pain which is exposing tension in the body or exposing a weakness in a particular muscle group that maybe is atrophied. When you get into a yoga pose it’s utilizing muscles you haven’t worked, and that can be painful. When you’re stretching a muscle that’s gotten really stiff and really tight and maybe even really dried out, and has become like leather and less like a sponge, that’s going to be painful.

In Yin yoga, when you do these long deep stretches, is often really challenging for people because their connective tissues and their deep fascia layer has withered up, and there has been a lack of circulation, and as you expose that atrophy, it’s uncomfortable. That’s good pain. We want that kind of pain. 

What we want to avoid is the bad pain, and that’s what I was talking about a little bit earlier. And that’s the impingement when you’re pinching into a nerve, when you’re collapsing into a joint, we never want that.

When a joint is balanced on all sides and we have good alignment in our warrior one, our warrior two, our twisting chair, or whatever the pose is, we also get an even flow of energy moving through the body. When you have misalignment within a certain area of the body, that’s kind of like having a kink in a garden hose, so now the energy can’t flow through. It gets backed up.

But, when you have good quality alignment, prana is able to flow through all the channels in the body in a way that’s unrestricted. And when prana is flowing through all the channels, or nadis in yoga, now not only are we getting a good flow of blood, but we’re also getting a good flow of subtle energy as well which is the source of life force and vitality.

It can be difficult to know, “Am I well aligned in a yoga pose?” especially if we’re newer to the practice. And this is why it’s good to have a teacher, somebody who has a lot of experience teaching good solid alignment because a lot of times we have blind spots within our yoga practice, and we don’t know.

If you haven’t done a 200-hour yoga teacher training, I highly recommend it even if you don’t want to teach yoga. Because when you go do a good quality teacher training, your teachers are going to dissect all the major yoga poses. You’re going to know when you have good solid alignment within all the poses, and then you’re going to have that info for the rest of your life. So doing a 200-hour training is an investment in time, energy, and money, but it’s something that will pay off for the rest of your yoga career if you’re passionate about it.

2) Come Back to the Breath

Number two, you’re going to come back to your breath. At the beginning of a yoga practice, you should never move on from that opening pose – whether that’s child’s pose, mountain pose, or a seated pose – you never want to move on from that opening posture until you establish the breath where it’s steady, rhythmic, and deep.

In our society, we just aren’t taught to breathe properly. We’re not learning in schools how to breathe, but your breath is everything. Your breath is your energy. Your breath is your life force. It affects all of your systems in your body. It affects your mind state. It affects your heart state.

So the fact we’re not trained how to breathe properly means that when you’re practicing yoga, you’re going to notice, time after time after time, you’ve lost your breath. When you’re thinking about doing your alignment,  you may have lost your breath. So you come back to the recommitment of breathing deep and breathing rhythmically.

This deep breathing is going to keep you calm. It’s going to keep you centered. It’s going to keep you in a state of serenity even when you’re moving through poses of adversity. Every good yoga practice should be challenging because the challenges are how we grow.

Your breath is there to serve you in two main ways.

Number one, it’s your fuel supply. Your breath is what gives you energy. It’s what gives you mojo. If you’re in a power yoga practice, the stronger the pose, the more breath you need moving in and out through your nose.

Your breath should be like a mirror. Your breath should be reflective of the intensity of what you’re moving through. You’re moving through something really strong, breathe more. You’re moving through something more gentle, more mellow, then breathe more mellow. Let your breath adapt and adjust to the experience of what you’re encountering moment to moment.

The second main function of the breath is to anchor your mind. Yoga is equally a mental practice as it is a physical practice. And when you’re moving through your practice there are those moments where your mind leaves your yoga practice. And if your mind leaves your yoga practice, then you’re now detracting from the power and the potency of what’s possible because where the mind goes is where the energy flows. As much as possible, we want our mind ro be dialed into our yoga practice.

When we’re doing yoga, we should be focusing on yoga not work, not family, not errands, not worries, not regrets. We should be present. We should be anchored into the present moment experience because the essence of yoga is about awareness. It’s about presence. When you bring presence to the ordinary, it becomes extraordinary.

3) Let Go, Let Be

Number three, the third phase. After you’ve dialed in your alignment, after you’ve recommitted to your breath, you’re going to “let go and let be.”

You see, this last stage is where the real yoga begins because the yoga is not the yoga posture. It’s not the yoga pose. The real yoga is a quality inside of your mind. That quality is awareness of presence. So you want to get to this place where there is nowhere to get to; there is nothing to do; there is nothing to adjust; there is nothing to correct, but to just let go and let be, to shift from doing into being, from striving into arriving and allowing.

Be the witness of sensation that arises within the terrain of the body. You want to be the one that’s watching sensation that appears and disappears. Thoughts that arise like waves and then subside away.

You see, a lot of people in their yoga practice, they might be really good with step one, with finding the alignment. But the problem is they spend the whole entire yoga pose perfecting every little thing and getting myopic, and then they never arrive into a place where they are just ‘Being,’ and it’s never good enough.

This is the shadow side of perfectionism. The third phase demands wisdom. The wisdom of saying, “All right. I’ve done my best within the alignment. I’ve come back to my breath. Now I have to let all of that go.”

In the same way a musician practices their scales over and over again, and then they go to the concert, and they have to get out of the way of themselves and trust that it’s there, trust that the practice is there, to trust that the beauty is going to show up, that the talents are going to allow themselves to flourish, we also have to grant ourselves permission to surrender to let this intelligence, this intelligence that exists within our body to do what it knows how to do. And not just the intelligence within the body, but also the built-in intelligence and wisdom and power that exists within this great modality of yoga to do what it knows how to do.

If we’re in too much control and needing to fix and adjust and perfect then we’re in our head the whole entire time of the pose, and never allowing ourselves to move from the small self to the big self — to get out of the way of our ego and our identity and to allow grace to enter our body.

I’ve seen yogis come into class, and they, from an outside perspective, look like they’re doing the yoga pose just like you might see on the cover of a yoga magazine. It looks beautiful, it looks perfect, but what are they doing while they’re in the yoga pose?

Their ego’s proud they look so good and they’re the best yogi in the room, or even worse they’re looking at their watch to see what time it is, or they’re looking around the room and they’re judging what other people are doing, and they feel superior to what other people are doing. Or they’re anticipating what the yoga instructor is going to say next. They’re anticipating what pose is coming next.

If you’re anticipating what posture is coming next, are you present? No!

Your mind is in a future place, so you’re not practicing yoga. It may look like the shell of your yoga practice is perfect. But when we understand what yoga is on a deeper level, you’re not practicing yoga.

Do we need safe alignment? Yes. That’s step one.

Do we need to breathe? Yes. That’s step two.

But that’s not the end of the story. The end of the story is that eventually we want to get to that place where we let go, and we let be. And when we get out of the way of ourselves, this intelligence that’s built into who we are in the deepest of levels can fully be expressed.

Patanjali, the great yoga sage, defined yoga as yoga chitta vritti nirodhah. What that means is yoga is the removal of the waves inside of the mind.

When your mind becomes still, when your mind becomes placid and serene, that’s yoga. But when your mind has waves kicked up by the ego, these waves are kicked up by grasping, these waves that are kicked up by pulling and pushing, we want to transcend the push and the pull.

Enlightenment is when we become free of pushing and pulling in life.

What is the push in the pull?

Well, the push is we’re in a yoga pose, and we don’t want to be there, so we resist it. We want to push it away. That’s the push. And then when we’re in a pose that we love, we rock this pose; we feel good in this pose; this pose comes easy. We pull the pose to us, and then we want to hold on to it.

We’re like a child holding onto their blanket or a toddler holding onto their toy. We don’t want to let go of the pose because we’re scared of moving into a pose that’s going to challenge us. That’s the push and the pull. 

Now, of course, that’s applicable in your life as well. And anytime you’re moving through your life, notice when the push and the pull shows up. Because when the push and the pull shows up, guess what that leads too? It leads to unhappiness, and it leads to suffering. The more you can transcend the push and the pull in your yoga practice and your life, the more happiness and joy you will experience.

So I want you to put this into action. The next time you practice yoga, incorporate these three phases.

  1. Focus on Alignment
  2. Come Back to the Breath.
  3. Let go, Let be.

Thank you guys so much for tuning in to this week’s podcast.

Let’s finish now with the ultimate prayer.

“May we bring strength where there is weakness.

May we bring courage where there is fear.

May we bring light where there is darkness.

And may we bring compassion where there is suffering.

May we be ultimate!”