Yoga Wellness educator. Hatha yoga, meditation, pilates, Reiki. Oracle card reader. Gateway Dream Guide. Yoga Therapy foundations program.
According to Andre van Lysebeth, a Belgian yoga instructor who wrote extensively on yoga, “[w]e are all beginners in yoga”. Compared with the accomplished yoga sages of old, we yogis and yoginis of the modern age are all beginners.
When practicing yoga, inexperienced yoga practitioners as well as yoga experts find themselves in the same psycho-physiological situation. They must respect the same laws. The main difference is in the degree of flexibility and/or strength, but with no fundamental divergence. At every step, the experienced yogis must return to the basic core values, the ones taught to new and inexperienced yoga practitioners.
The word “asana” or “asanas” in this article means a yoga pose or a yoga movement.
How to Let a Yoga Pose Happen
Yoga is not limited to the physical aspect of asanas, even though asanas are the foundation of the physical aspects of yoga and its mental aspect, meditation.
Asanas are the entryway to the physical yoga; they are also the universal gateway to the psycho-physiological developments of yoga. Being able to correctly do the poses is a primordial condition for every yoga practitioner.
An asana must happen:
- In stillness, without movement once in its final stage.
- For some time. A healthy person must hold the pose for 20 to 30 seconds at least.
- Naturally without effort.
- While regulating the breath.
In asanas, the muscles are intentionally placed in an unusual position; one that is not anti-physiological.
The position in which we place our muscles to hold an asana is different from all positions and situations we face in regular life, be it in sports, at the gym, at work, or even while resting,
What are the main characteristics of muscular tissues? Contraction. It is because muscles can contract and shorten that they can support our skeleton when we move.
In yoga, muscles are stretched and lengthened in a methodical way. The stretching and lengthening are an essential feature of asanas.
Stretching the muscles is crucial; it helps lengthen them.
It is true that it is not possible to lengthen a muscle beyond its normal length. But the muscles of athletes and of people who live a sedentary life are not usually at their normal length; their muscles are short and contracted.
When we stretch shortened muscles with a safe and regular yoga practice, we help give them back their normal length. Yoga frees the joints of the body to their full potential.
A stretched muscle is emptied of blood; once it is back to its normal length, it becomes filled with fresh blood. The health and functioning of the muscles improve when they imbibe fresh blood.
Elasticity Limit of the Muscles
Muscles are elastic and stretchable in addition to their ability to contract.
When we stretch a muscle further than its normal limit, it resists extra stretching. All movements, whether fast or slow, can be found in their normal elasticity zone. This elasticity zone is what defines an individual as stiff or flexible.
The goal of an asana is to take a muscle beyond its normal degree of elasticity. The conditions of letting an asana happen stem from the properties of the muscle placed in a situation where it is asked to go beyond its regular elasticity limit.
A muscle can go beyond its regular limits if we let it rest and relax. When a muscle reaches the limit of its normal ability to be stretched, it tends to contract to protect itself.
We could sidestep the muscle’s tendency to contract by using voluntary relaxation. Whenever muscles start to resist, we must relax and avoid letting them settle in a defensive reaction.
When we sense that the muscle is resisting a stretch, we can let ourselves experience a pleasant ‘suffering’, the stretch sensation that becomes painful if we force it. We must then calmly let our attention on the muscle that rebels and voluntarily let it relax.
Our understanding of what happens in the muscle, and our use of the exhalation help us to relax the muscle. With each exhalation, we let ourselves go into the stretch a little more.
Give It Enough Time
It is safer to avoid hurrying in your yoga practice.
A muscle changes its length and contracts when it is stretched to its limits.
When you stretch a muscle, it can be stretched to its limit if it is rested and not contracted. But you must give it time and let the stretch last for 20 to 30 seconds at least (12 seconds for those who are just starting yoga). Once you reach the limit of stretching a muscle, give it time to stretch even more.
No Abrupt Movement During the Stretch
A muscle no longer has a safety margin when it is stretched to its limit; it becomes vulnerable.
Muscles do not risk injury if we let the asanas happen, even if we add progressive traction. The risk of injury happens when we push.
Do not let anyone push you more into a pose by placing their hands or weight on you, especially when you are already holding the pose.
If you want someone to push you into a pose, let it be done at the beginning of the asana, not when you are holding it in its final form. The push must be done with gentleness.
To reap the benefits of a pose, it is essential that you progress slowly and that you stay motionless when you reach the limit of a stretch.
Purpose of Dynamic Movement of Asanas
The dynamic phase of a yoga movement is meant to prepare for the static phase. It must be done with placing attention on the muscle that will be stretched.
A static phase in asanas is a fixed or motionless position, where you stop moving.
Avoid “Doing” an Asana
When you reach the static phase of an asana, do not do anything.
“Doing” means work. Work means movement or a contraction. What yogis are asked to do is to put themselves in a situation to let the asana happen.
The groups of muscles that are targeted by an asana must be the most passive they can be. The only groups of muscles allowed to ‘work’ in an asana are those required to exert a contraction on the muscles that must be stretched.
This dissociation between contracted muscles and relaxed muscles is a characteristic of asanas.
This is the reason we say that yoga practitioners, whether new or experienced, find themselves in the same situation when they practice the asanas.
They must follow the same laws. The difference is in the degree of flexibility and strength of the individual, but with no major difference. At every step, the experienced yogis must return to the basic core values, the ones taught to new and inexperienced yoga practitioners.
Van Lysebeth, A. Yoga Revue Mensuelle # 105 (1972).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Liliane Najm (author) from Toronto, Canada on August 31, 2020:
Thank you Vandna for taking the time to comment on my article. This article is also meant to be a good reminder for experienced yoga practitioners who might run the risk of believing themselves above the laws of yoga.
thoughtsprocess from Navsari (India) on August 31, 2020:
Thank you so much for sharing this article with us. Useful information for beginners.