Diving Deeper Into Transitions
What’s more interesting in your practice? The poses? Or the spaces in between the poses?
In the age of Instagram and pretty pictures on social media, we’ve developed this belief that yoga is all about the poses. And of course, many understand that the practice of yoga happens off the mat as well - but what about the moment you exit one pose and enter another? What about the transition?
Yoga Transitions, while they may not get much attention, can add so much life to your practice. They can even make or break your practice. They don’t satisfy the ego, the way a pose does. They can’t be photographed. But they bring awareness to the moment.
When you stay mindful and aware as you exit one pose and move into another, your entire practice shifts. It’s no longer just about the shapes themselves - it becomes about movement in general. It becomes about the exact moment you’re in. Not about the moment before where you were in one pose, and not about the moment that’s to come where you’ll be in the next pose.
Oftentimes poses can have a performance or achievement quality to them. We struggle into them, hold them to the best of our abilities - maybe scanning the room to see how others’ poses look, and then we not-so-carefully maneuver into the next shape
What if rather than focusing on each pose, we slowed down to experience the beauty of the inbetween state?
Transitions are important for many reasons:
- It slows down your practice - which helps you to avoid injury.
- It helps you to stay mindful and in a more meditative state.
- It causes you to engage muscles and builds strength - because you can no longer rely on pure momentum.
Everyone has heard the old saying about enjoying the journey, not just the destination.
Transitions are the journey. The next pose is the destination.
When you’re driving from one place to the next, are you rushing? Or do you enjoy the scenery, enjoy some music or a podcast, and take it easy? Do you rush through your morning coffee or tea? Or do you sit and enjoy those first few moments of stillness before the day really begins?
There’s nothing wrong with rushing. But it is a missed opportunity for joy.
I recently put together an online course on a topic I absolutely love, the chakras. I gave myself a short deadline to put everything together, stuck to a strict no-time-for-fun schedule, and got it all done on time. Two weeks into the content creation process however, I realized how rushing to get the project finished was taking its toll on me. I was drinking coffee in the afternoon, staying up late to get information together, and overall not giving myself the space to enjoy the process. I started to feel rundown. It was all about completion.
Once I realized how ridiculous it was to choose to create a course on a subject I’m passionate about, only to not enjoy the creation process - I changed gears. I still had to stick to a strict schedule, but I committed to being in the moment. That internal gear shift was all I needed to actually enjoy the journey. It was an equal amount of work - but because my focus was no longer set on the finish line and instead on the road, the scenery, and all of the beauty in between - I felt physically much better and mentally happy to be in the process.
The way we transition on the mat mirrors the way we transition through life.
The next time you’re in your practice, check in. Are you swooping quickly through Chaturanga into Upward Facing Dog? Are you lifting your hips skyward as fast as you can to get from Upward Facing Dog to Downward Facing Dog? What are you skipping or missing out on by doing so? What do you gain when you slow it down?
Another place to look for rushing or forcing is during all twists. Whether you’re seated, balancing, supine, or in any other twist - catch yourself. How did you set up for the twist? What happened to your breath? Ideally twisting poses are not stagnant. We don’t shove ourselves into a twist and then stay stuck - we continue breathing and adjusting into more depth if that’s what the body is craving, or more length if that’s what we need. But to rush through it is to miss the body’s desires. The next time you practice any twist, do it with awareness. From set up to unwind, focus inwards on your own body and breath.
Backbends and balancing poses are two other places we tend to rush into and out of postures. How quickly do you push yourself up from the ground and into Wheel pose? How quickly do you lower your hands to the mat from Warrior III into Standing Splits?
Two places where it can be somewhat dangerous to rush.
Lowering into Standing Splits from Warrior III with control is undoubtedly more challenging. It takes much more core strength, glute strength, it takes muscular stabilization, AND it takes patience. Dropping down into it without control can cause some jolting of weight into the wrists, which may not be a huge issue for you - but at best you miss out on engaging your muscles and getting stronger, at worst you place unnecessary pressure on your wrists.
Transitioning into and out of any backbend when done mindfully, can keep length in the spine and help to avoid dumping and crunching into the low back.
Take Camel for example. This is one pose where I see students consistently rush into the “full pose” and miss out on important transitional moments that help create a longer and stronger backbend. This is especially true of students with tight hip flexors.
The most effective way to get into Camel, is to begin with hands on the low back, lift the ribs and tuck the tailbone to create length in the spine, then - while maintaining hips stacked over knees and length in the spine - reach back for the heels.
What I see more often is - rather than starting from higher up (with hands on the low back) - I see students sit back to grab their heels first. As they then push their hips forward (to whatever point their tight hip flexors allow) they dump into the low back. Rather than elongating the spine to create a more equal backbend, they instead get this very crunchy pose. They also miss out on the stretch for their hip flexors.
The goal is to eventually make your entire yoga practice one long moving meditation. From the moment you step foot on your mat, to sitting up from Savasana and bowing out of class will ideally become one long meditation. One long mindfulness practice that will help you to build strength, mobility, and even a better relationship with your body.
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