November 16, 2020
The 3 Phases of a Yoga Pose
This article is about how you maximize your time in a yoga pose and at the same time, how to increase the quality of your yoga practice. Based on what I’ve seen from my 15 plus years of teaching, below are three insights that hopefully will help you deepen your yoga practice and enjoy it for years to come.
1. Find the Alignment
When you’re in a yoga posture, you have to first start 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, including the other two phases to come, is set up for success.
We want to make sure the alignment is dialed in and we have good integrity within the body. Integrity in yoga means a joint is balanced and even on all sides. When your joints are 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 and there’s no sharp pinching bad pain.
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 whether you’re well aligned in a yoga pose. Especially if you’re newer to the practice. 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. 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. 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
Second, 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 – until you establish a breath that’s steady, rhythmic, and deep.
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.
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 to 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.
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 essence of yoga is not in the physical posture. Real yoga is a quality inside of your mind. Be the witness of sensation that arises within the terrain of the body. You want to be the one that’s watching sensations that appear and disappear. Thoughts that arise like waves and then subside away.
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.
The end of the yoga story is that eventually we want to get to that place where we let go, and we let be. 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.